The Loss of Bear
I wrote this for Bear who passed away on May 20th of this year. The poem isn't mine, but it just fit him so perfectly.
I wasn't really sure if I wanted to share this particular blog yet because the memory of it is still so fresh and painful. For those of you that have lost a pet that was more like a family member...you'll understand.
Poem For Cats
And God asked the feline spirit
Are you ready to come home?
Oh, yes, quite so, replied the precious soul
And, as a cat, you know I am most able
To decide anything for myself.
Are you coming then? asked God.
Soon, replied the whiskered angel
But I must come slowly
For my human friends are troubled
For you see, they need me, quite certainly.
But don't they understand? asked God
That you'll never leave them?
That your souls are intertwined. For all eternity?
That nothing is created or destroyed?
It just is....forever and ever and ever.
Eventually they will understand,
Replied the glorious cat
For I will whisper into their hearts
That I am always with them
I just am....forever and ever and ever.
I'd known for a while that Bear, my oldest feline friend, was winding down. I think it hit me about two weeks before we actually said goodbye.
He was old...nineteen to be exact and no longer so agile or graceful. A big leap for him was from the floor to the tub to the sink countertop so that he could enjoy his favorite morning ritual of playing with the water as it trickled from the faucet. But most times, he was content to curl up on the bathroom rug, sleeping.
Bear was unusual in his sensitivity toward me, which is why I'm sure he knew beforehand and took the time to prepare me. For the first time in months, he struggled to get on the bed so that we could spend time together at night. He never stayed long, but it always ended with him putting his nose in my face and staring at me as if he were committing my features to memory. I knew...and as silly as it may sound to some, there were times when I cried myself to sleep...or lack thereof because my nose would be so blocked I couldn't breathe. I wanted it just to be my imagination. Since I have a very active imagination it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to think I was just begging for trouble when there was none. Perhaps I was just still overly sensitive about the loss of Mojo...
It had happened so unexpectedly. One moment Mojo was there and the next...he wasn't. I remember just the day before he and I had enjoyed a snuggle on the bed, stretched out in the sunshine. I always enjoyed running my fingers through his heat-soaked fur. It was so soft and shiny. The very picture of health.
And then that Monday morning, while I was getting ready for work, Mojo leaned against the cupboard in the kitchen in his usual James Dean fashion and after getting his good morning from Donnie, he walked into the laundry room and died.
It wasn't as peaceful as it sounds though. My attention was drawn by what sounded like a cat fight. I jumped up from the computer and went into the hall, just as Donnie came running from the kitchen. He spotted Mojo seconds before I did and said, "Oh no..."
Mojo cried out again...I'll never forget that sound as long as I live. It haunts me. Without a thought I dropped beside him and pulled him into my lap. I knew he was leaving but I didn't want him to feel alone. Nobody should ever die alone. And just like that, my beautiful big black cat was gone.
So yes, perhaps a part of me was remembering the loss of Mojo and imagining that there was something dire in Bear's behavior. Who could blame me since it had only been a few months? To me, the grave out back was still new...
It was easy to bury these fears for a week or so. There wasn't a morning when I didn't wince at the sound of a thump as Bear missed the jump from the tub to the sink. I'd walk into the bathroom to make sure he was okay and he'd be picking himself up and making another attempt. He was still eating and when we sat down for dinner...I would morbidly joke that he could have anything he begged for as I fed him choice morsels of chicken or ham. Donnie would tell me to stop it...he wasn't dying. But I would insist and even put on a fake Bear voice, "Give me chicken! You wouldn't deny a dying cat chicken would you?" Perhaps I felt if I joked about it, it wouldn't come true. Oh I know eventually he would pass away...all things do...I just didn't ever want it to be now. Ever.
Gradually, Bear began to lose weight and like a mother hen I tried to stuff him with higher calories. He never passed up a treat. I began to worry though...should I take him to the vet? He didn't seem to be in pain...he was eating...and as Donnie put it, what was it they could really do for him? Run a bunch of tests, give us bad news...?
And then one day, he just decided to stop eating. It didn't pain him...it was like he'd made a conscious decision to pull a Gandhi maneuver on me. He'd lay down in one of his usual spots but if I approached him or tried to show any concern, he'd glare at me, get up and move a few feet away before resettling. To be honest, it rather hurt my feelings. I just couldn't understand this decision he seemed to be making...because I'd be lying to you if I said that I thought it was anything other than a choice.
I spent a lot of this time remembering. It's funny how you can go day after day building so many memories, but it takes a conscious effort to stop living in the moment and remember all the things that went into a lifetime.
The day he was born is like yesterday to me. I can remember it clearly. His mother and her very large stomach decided to plant itself on my belly as I reclined on the couch. As I tried to watch the television around her ample form, she just gave me this patient enigmatic look. When she finally had my full attention she would give me a gaze and then look away at one of the many baskets I had scattered around the room...and then back at me...back at the baskets.
"Oh no you don't," I said,"If it's that time I showed you the special place I set up for you." Gently I lifted her up and brought her to the little hidey nest I'd built inside one of the end tables that had a cabinet. Once I had her settled, I got up to leave but she would have none of that. Somehow I got talked into being my cat's midwife and for the next four hours sat there with her while my legs fell asleep hoping that something would happen soon.
One by one, her kittens entered the world. Bear was number three of four and by far the largest of her litter. He ended up getting stuck...so it was a good thing I was there to gently guide him out. Once she'd cleaned him up, I held him in my hand. "You are staying with me...and your name will be Bear." After that, I stole him from Mineu's maternal care often and with a disapproving look she'd come and take him back from me at feeding time. As a result though, once he'd opened his eyes and was able to walk about the house, he followed me everywhere. We were bonded.
When he was old enough I explained to him the rules of the house. "Oh...and if you stay with me you have to live a long, long life...at least 20 years. I've lost too many cats at an early age. So if you plan on weaseling your way into my heart, be prepared to hang around for a good long time. Do we have a deal?"
Bear's mother passed away when he was ten years old. We both mourned her for she was a most sage cat. I reminded Bear then of his promise to me about living until twenty and he seemed to be in agreement. Did I really believe he could do it? I'm not exactly sure how serious I was about that promise, but as the years passed and Bear showed no sign of aging, I was confident that he was doing his best to fulfill it.
As I watched Bear, it began to bother me a bit that I had asked so much from him. If he were really aware of this obligation, was it gnawing at him as well?
When Monday, May 19th arrived, I found I couldn't bring myself to go to work. What if something happened to him while I was gone? What if I didn't get the chance to say goodbye? What if he suddenly was in pain and I wasn't there to help? I called my boss, Larry, and tried to sound professional...but that lasted all of a minute. Being an animal lover himself, he understood and told me that of course I had to stay with Bear. Anything else was unacceptable as far as he was concerned.
While I was taking a shower, Bear hovered on the other side of the glass door and I saw the longing look on his face. It wasn't just the faucet that he was enamored of, you see...he just loved the feel of water as it dripped and fell on him. He was used to taking showers with me...with Donnie...how could I deny him this even though he was so weak he probably wouldn't be able to negotiate the sill? I opened the door and gently picked him up and put him in the shower. He stood for a minute and then with a contented sigh he laid down and turned his face up to the spray.
I had a flashback then of another time. It was one of those rare summer thunderstorms that compels you to leave your house and sit out where you can feel the wind on your skin and hear the echo of thunder inside you. We sat on the porch of the old New England house, Bear and I, sheltered by the overhang as we watched the black storm clouds boil across the sky. With a sudden flash of lightning and a bellyful of thunder, the clouds opened up and I looked over at Bear concerned that it may have frightened him. What I saw held me in awe more than the grandest thunderstorm. His eyes widened and he had a Christmas morning look on his face. In his opinion this was just the most miraculous shower he'd ever encountered...an outdoor one! He poked his head out from under the sheltering roof and turned his face up to the sky...
I dashed away the tears and gently picked Bear up off the shower floor. I wrapped him in a fluffy towel and together the two of us went out on the back patio to sit in the Arizona sunshine to dry off. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful morning. All the more so because I had the feeling that this would be the last one we would enjoy together...
"I just thought of something," I said to him as I stroked h is fur, "remember that promise you made me about living til 20? Well...tomorrow is May 20th and if you make it til then, you will have fulfilled your promise to me. Understand?"
The rest of the day, there was nothing I could do but occasionally check on him. As I always do when I feel like I have no control over a situation, I turn to things I can control. I cleaned the house like a thing possessed. I noticed over the day that each of the other cats...Zuma, Jack and even Foxy...spent time with him. They curled up next to him quietly offering their respect. Even they knew.
Tuesday morning dawned like any other day. Foxy hopped into the bed for her usual morning snuggle but every time I tried to wrap my arm around her in the teddy bear style she insisted on, she would back away. I opened my eyes fully then and saw that Donnie was just about to leave for work. He told me that Bear was still hanging on...
Foxy headbutted me...her face and all its tickley whiskers irritating me into complete consciousness. "Okay...fine...I'm up," I grumbled as I threw back the covers and left the bed.
I saw Bear then, in the hall. His breathing seemed a bit more labored than it had been the day before and he raised his head slightly when I approached. He made no move to get up and leave until I reached out a hand to pet him. Then he struggled up...teetered awkwardly into the kitchen and collapsed.
"Oh no you don't," I said. "You will not deny me comforting you." I picked him up and carried him to the couch where I held him in my arms and with a sigh he finally laid his head on my chest. This was going to be so hard.
I had called my sister, Toni, the day before and she had sympathized, telling me of how when she had lost a beloved pet, she felt compelled near the end to actually give permission for them to go. So very softly at first, I began to talk to Bear. I told him how much I loved him. How much joy he'd brought to my life and how grateful I was for all the time we'd had together. That I was going to be fine and he didn't have to worry any longer. His job was done...and he'd done a wonderful job at that. I told him I understood that he had to go...and that it was okay.
No...it really wasn't okay. I hated this. I didn't want to say goodbye. This was why he tried to separate me from him at the end...even then he didn't want for it to hurt so much. Maybe for both of us. It occurred to me then that my cat was braver than me. Here I was waiting for any sign of pain so I could rush him to the vet and have them make it a comfortable ending and he was trying to go with dignity. I felt so ashamed.
I called Donnie...I just needed to hear his voice for a few minutes.
Bear's legs had stiffened up a bit, so I rubbed them tenderly trying to ease the tension. It was breaking my heart and I really wasn't sure how much more I could take.
When it comes to religion, I'm a Catholic by convenience. It seems whenever I need my faith, I take it out, dust it off and wield it like a birthright. Desperately I appealed to this higher authority. "Please," I begged, "please take him. I can't take this suffering, this bravery...hasn't he been brave long enough?"
As if in answer to my prayer, Bear suddenly seized up and a thin cry escaped him. I held onto him, wishing I could take this pain away and feel it for him. It seemed like forever, but was probably only seconds...and then he was gone.
Death is never peaceful in my opinion. It isn't a quiet thief that steals in and gently takes something precious away without knowledge. It comes and it rips it from your fingertips no matter how tightly you struggle to hold onto it.
I am grateful that my friend is no longer suffering. It's only me that suffers now. I know that my grief makes Donnie uncomfortable, so I grieve when I'm alone and often. I just miss him. I miss accidentally spitting toothpaste on his head when he gets between me and the sink at an inconvenient moment. I miss hearing him pace the house in the middle of the night making his funny little sounds that for all the world sounded like he was calling my name.
I take comfort that he was born into my hands and died in my arms...that I never failed him and was always there when he needed me.
I have loved and lost many animals...but none has left such an indelible mark on my soul as Bear. Children in their innocence ask if there is a heaven for these creatures, and as an adult, I honestly hope there is. That one day should I be fortunate enough to arrive in such a place the first sound I hear is not a chorus of hallelujahs but a strange little cat voice saying, "Orrie!"